Thursday, January 15, 2009

More about the Pack

I guess the cold has me thinking more about the old days, with the old dogs. Down at the farm, a bitter cold day like today, with temperatures below zero, would be a huge challenge from sunup to sundown. The biggest challenges were always keeping the dogs warm and having water for the horses. So far, I've been terribly lucky that all of the systems at the farm are giving no trouble - of course, it has taken years of hard work and bushels of money to get the systems to this point. The new furnace in the old house this year was one of those things that had to be done. This furnace is at least the fifth I've had in the house since I moved in. I started with a great big old coal furnace from the thirties that had been converted to an oil furnace. The old coal bin holds the oil tank - which probably still holds a lot of oil. The house was always cold so I supplemented the heat with kerosene heaters and a woodstove - it seemed like I spent most of my free time filling kerosene containers or chopping wood. I broke the pick-up truck springs year after year by overloading it with firewood. Then, about 25 years ago I had the old furnace, and the asbestos it was wrapped in, removed and replaced it with a new oil furnace. I had an oil delivery man for many years who made sure I never ran out of oil and I had heat and no worries. When that great guy retired, I had problem after problem. On the coldest nights - like the ones this week - I would find myself up at the gas station filling a can with diesel fuel for the furnace. I learned that I could heat the house for a night and a day with a 5 gallon can of diesel fuel.

That new furnace couldn't survive the spring flooding. Every spring, my basement would leak so badly that the sump pump couldn't keep up with it and the furnace pilot light would go out. So, one of the horse boarders worked in the plant department at the university in Ann Arbor - which meant he installed and inspected furnaces every day. He talked a buddy into installing a commercial gas furnace in my basement. They hung that furnace from the ceiling. It worked for a while, then had to be replaced. The replacement blew up in the middle of the night, the night before I was leaving town for a week (to go to a rug school in Iowa). I heard the big bang in the middle of the night, but had no idea what had happened. When I came home again, the house was filled from basement to attic with black soot. I replaced that furnace, and now this year have replaced that replacement. I hope this furnace lasts a little longer than the others.
A couple years earlier, at that same horse show, I acquired a wonderful little puppy from some cowboys. I named the puppy Mink and carried her around under my sweater for a week because I kept taking her into places where dogs were not allowed. When she was two, she ran right through two rows of fences and was hit and killed on the road. Right before she was killed, I had acquired another puppy. This was another dog, like Ben, who had come to school. I saw him first in the school office. A mother of a First Grader had brought the puppy in for show and tell. He was a big black and white ball of fluff and I admired him. I said something foolish like, "I wish I had a little dog like that." and Boom! she shoved him into my arms and said, "He's all yours" as she ran out the door. I was stunned - and there I was with Spot - Spot the Border Collie who was waaaaaay too smart to be a dog - way too smart to live with. Spot, the dog who tried to get rid of Blue. Spot, who was eventually killed on the road. Spot who had been dearly loved and worshipped by Blue and a whole herd of humans. People used to bring their kids to the store just to pet Spot. One young lady who works now for my new vet remembers how her mother was always willing to schedule "petting time" so they could visit and pet Spot. Spot died because he had such a strong will of his own. He went on a run at the farm on a Saturday when I was scheduled to be at the store. I hunted for him, then gave up, and left for the store without him. I drove back about an hour later, feeling awful that I had left Spot behind, and found him dead in the road. I believe he was attempting to follow us when he was hit by a car.

I am always devastated when I lose an animal, but I was especially upset with Spot because I thought his death was my fault. My vet knew how upset I was and must have told his wife. She called me one day and asked if I'd like to have another Border Collie. Foolish me, I immediately said yes, and she gave me directions to a find a lady who had just had a litter of puppies vaccinated. I drove to the house and found a little room full of roly poly black and white fuzz balls. There was some story I didn't understand about the puppies coming from a careless neighbor, but I stopped listening when I saw a replica of Spot. I took him right home and started calling him Little Spot. Some of Spot's best friends said I couldn't do that, so I changed his name to George. (I was reading a book at the time about King George and George Washington, so that's where the name George came from.) The dog George has turned into is a much kinder and gentler dog than his almost namesake. Once he started growing, he even stopped looking like Spot. He's much bigger and calmer looking - and he would never dump another dog in an icey pond. He's now eleven years old and has a close bond with my mother. Whenever she will let him, he sits by her and sneaks his head onto her lap. She knows long before I do when he isn't feeling well. When he almost died last year, she was the person who realized he was sick and scared me into action by saying, "We can't lose him now" and thank goodness we didn't.

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